Know Thyself, Know The Customer

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I know – it sounds Shakespearean but I just made it up.

Why are you in business? What makes you happy? What gets you excited about working hard every day?

There are millions of ways to make money and I’ve had the honor of working with a very diverse makeup of companies and people that prove this every day.

The real question for true business Leaders is: HOW do we want to make money? And the answer to that question is your vision. Without an honest answer, we risk the very definition of our company.

Vision isn’t just something that sounds nice for marketing the company – it drives priorities and behavior. It drives the right customer to our door.

We need to look no further than the troubles at Starbucks for an example. Starbucks is a great company with a great brand with lots of customers and a healthy profit. Their latest dilemma is being framed as having too many customers at once – isn’t that a great problem to have?

Actually, the problem isn’t too many customers – it’s that their vision is inconsistent with their behavior. I know, I know – sounds like consultant-speak.

It’s not.

Starbucks was able to drastically increase the cost of a cup of coffee because they successfully implemented a bold vision: good coffee, free wifi (that was a big deal at first), a comfy setting, investment in employees, and the idea that coffee was a break – not something to grab on the way to your next meeting. And they implemented that vision very well. Their customers wanted employees that talked to them – they patiently waited in line because time was not their primary driver for choosing Starbucks. In every local market, there are literally dozens of options for purchasing coffee. If you wanted a “quick” cup of coffee, you could go somewhere else. But if you wanted to take a break from your day, if you wanted to relax and chat, or troll social media, then Starbucks offered a great experience. And that was their differentiator – they weren’t selling coffee, they were selling an experience.

But something happened in the hip new pay-with-your-phone approach. A new customer was born. This new customer is pressed for time. They expect their coffee to be ready so they can move quickly to their next event. They don’t want a nice interaction with a fairly paid employee – they just want their drink and they want it on time! Now there are arguably two different customers standing at the counter – one patient, one not; one pacing, one relaxing; one chatting, one who is late.

Starbucks will figure out their situation – they are a solid company.

But there are lessons to be learned.

Is every customer the “right” customer? We all know that the answer is technically “no”. But when we’re reviewing reports and forecasting revenue, sometimes we just want increased sales.

However, “unhappy” customers don’t necessarily lead to success (unless you’re the DMV where unhappiness seems to be their universal desire). In fact, the scenario exists where Starbucks makes more money catering to the pay-by-phone customer than they do with their traditional customer. Starbucks could save a lot of money by downsizing their stores to little more than a kiosk that pumps out significantly more product per hour than they do now. And their “new” customers would be happy because they can get their coffee on time. But here’s the question: Is that what Starbucks wants? Is that their vision? Is it possible to serve customers who are driven by “time” in an environment that was specifically designed to provide an “experience”?

There are plenty of customers out there – which ones do you want?

What’s your vision for your company? The answer to that question not only determines how you develop systems and marketing, it also determines the type of customer you want to serve.

It determines your own satisfaction with your company.

Create your vision. Update your vision regularly. Live by your vision.

And, most importantly, don’t let the wrong customer determine your vision, let your vision determine your customer.

Scott Alexander is a published author, a coach to entrepreneurs and senior executives, an accomplished speaker, and a strategy/leadership consultant.